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The Necessary Evil
Oct 13, 2021
Season 1 | Episode 2

The Necessary Evil

Mining is a complicated business. It’s destructive, it’s dangerous, but it’s also the reason that our modern world exists. Is there a better way?

Mining is an easy villain. It’s destructive, it’s dangerous, but it’s also the reason that our modern world exists. And now, as we race to get off fossil fuels to avoid some of the worst effects of the climate crisis, the world faces a pretty complicated dilemma: how to mine and extract lithium in a way that doesn’t fall back on exploitive and unjust practices. 

Lithium mines around the world have already attracted plenty of criticism: environmental damage, water shortages affecting indigenous communities and poor working conditions that sparked strikes. One way to address this, some argue, is to have countries like the United States, that typically outsource the dirtiest extractive practices, start mining their own lands. 

“We are going to probably have the highest per capita electrical car use,” said Glen Miller, a professor of environmental sciences at the University of Nevada, Reno. “We better be a part of all of the efforts of mining, of metal recovery and any production.” Miller has spent his career advocating for environmental causes, so his support for the mine at Thacker Pass comes as a surprise. “It is not as problematic as other ones I’ve seen, by quite a bit,” Miller said. 

In this episode, we return to Thacker Pass, the site of a proposed lithium mine, to find out what happens when we bring a messy business home. 

The first season of “How We Survive” is all about lithium and the messy business of finding climate solutions. New episodes are out every Wednesday. Be sure to follow us on your favorite podcast app and tell a friend if you’re enjoying the show.

“How We Survive” episode 2, “The Necessary Evil” transcript

Note: Marketplace podcasts are meant to be heard, with emphasis, tone and audio elements a transcript can’t capture. Transcripts are generated using a combination of automated software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting it.

Molly Wood: Back in our last episode, we found out that spinning up a whole new lithium mining industry in the United States to help get us off fossil fuels is going to be tricky.

Wendolyn Muratore: These people couldn’t be transparent if their life depended on it.

Gina Amato: At what cost? Are we gonna sacrifice for that cost ?

Max Wilbert: My life is devoted to stopping this mine right now. 

Molly Wood: And spending the summer driving around the desert, hearing everyone fighting with each other while it’s literally record breaking heat and smoke filled air, feeling like the world is ending… I couldn’t stop thinking about this sci-fi book by Neal Stephenson called “Seveneves.” This, by the way, happens a lot. I’m a big sci-fi nerd, and sci-fi is actually what got me thinking about the climate solutions of the future. 

So, in “Seveneves” the moon disintegrates for unknown reasons, and the debris in the atmosphere causes the oceans to boil and everything to burn on Earth. About 1500 people escaped to space to start a new civilization. And spoiler alert, even when there are only 1500 people left in the whole galaxy, they still manage to fight and have a war and literally almost go extinct because they could not stop being humans. 

And I don’t bring that up to be pessimistic or bleak, but only to point out that this podcast is also about that. About how we keep acting in irrational ways, even when it’s terrible for us as a whole.

I’m Molly Wood. This is How We Survive, a podcast from Marketplace about how finding solutions to the climate crisis is a messy business. This is episode 2, The Necessary Evil. 

Mining is a pretty easy villain. In general, it tears up land, it displaces animals and kills plants. It can pollute and poison. It’s dangerous work and the workers aren’t always well protected. But also, most of our modern life wouldn’t be possible without it, and the massive transition to green energy that we will need to beat back the climate crisis also might not be possible without it. Remember, all those batteries we’ll need to store renewable energy will be made mostly from lithium. And the only way to get that lithium right now is to extract it from the earth. And so far, mining lithium around the world has involved a lot of the same old resource extraction issues we are all to use to –  poor people and indigenous communities are suffering. Working conditions are dangerous. The mining itself is damaging habitats and ecosystems and people. So we wondered, isn’t there a better way? We spent the last episode in Nevada, hearing how messy the Thacker Pass mining proposal is there. Well, turns out lithium mining is pretty messy everywhere it’s happening. And you know what’s a really fun place to learn about metals extraction and international politics? It’s TikTok. And in certain corners of TikTok, lots of people are really upset with Elon Musk.

TikTok 1: Friendly reminder that Elon Musk is a maniac. 

Tik Tok 2: God to have be a fly on the wall in the room with Elon Musk when Bolivia’s election results came in. 

Tik Tok 3: Guys, is he hot or did he help fund the 2019 fascist coup in Bolivia, just to get some lithium for his Tesla batteries?

Tik Tok 4: You can read more about this in my new book, Elon Musk can suck it.

Molly Wood: Musk is, of course, the CEO of Tesla, the electric carmaker and also the seller of solar panels, home battery backup systems and massive battery installations meant to support renewable energy on power grids. All these batteries for our cars and homes and the grid? They’re all made mostly out of lithium. So this dude needs a lot of lithium. And as it happens, there’s a lot of lithium in South America, not just Bolivia. Chile, Argentina and Bolivia together are known as the lithium triangle. The three countries actually house as much as 60% of the world’s lithium reserves. And lithium extraction there has been super controversial, between accusations of environmental damage violating the rights of indigenous communities. And even maybe this coup.

Democracy Now clip: This after long time president Evo Morales resigned Sunday, following what he described as a military coup. Bolivia has been the scene of… 

Molly Wood: Let’s start in Bolivia around about 2019. 

Morales had cut off foreign access to that country’s huge reserve of lithium during his presidency. 

(clip of Evo Morales addressing crowd in Spanish)

Molly Wood: When he was kicked out of office in 2019, he said the US government had backed the coup.

(clip of Evo Morales addressing crowd in Spanish)

Molly Wood: And then in 2020 when someone accused Elon Musk of being part of the Bolivian coup, he tweeted, “We will coup whoever we want. Deal with it.” Yeah, cue the tik tok-ers. Musk said it was just a joke, he deleted the tweet… who can say with Mr. Musk, but the story illustrates the danger in a new Gold Rush focused on lithium. Even if the end goal of using lithium for batteries could be a net good, is it really positive if it’s also totally unjust? Back in the lithium triangle, Bolivia’s neighbor Chile has become the second largest exporter of lithium in the world after Australia. In northern Chile, in the Atacama Desert, the lithium is pulled out of dry salty lake beds called salars, which are ringed by high mountains.

Thea Riofrancos: Some of those mountains are volcanic. Many of those mountains have specific spiritual and symbolic meanings to the indigenous communities that live around the salt flats.

Molly Wood: Thea Riofrancos is a political scientist who teaches at Providence College in Rhode Island. She studies the social impacts of the renewable energy transition and she spent a lot of time in Chile looking at these lithium mines. And of course, the land around them, which she says is stunning. The salt flat the high desert mountains.

Thea Riofrancos: And then on top of that, the flamingo of course, there are these pink flamingos, which are Andean flamingos, they’re endemic to the region.

Announcer: The neon pink birds sift through the salty waters with their specialized beaks as they search for food. 

Thea Riofrancos: They’re just like chilling out there, calmly snacking on these different organisms that live on the salt flats, and they’re just the most beautiful, elegant light pastel pink birds you’ve ever seen.

Molly Wood: I kind of can’t get enough of the flamingo part of this. However, the situation around the lithium mines is hardly calm. In 2019, there were violent protests over economic inequality and resource extraction that actually shut down the lithium mines. Indigenous people in the Atacama Desert have complained about the environmental impacts of the mines. Some of the companies operating in Chile have been accused of taking more water than they’re allowed. Others have been accused of human rights abuses and other types of mines elsewhere. And apparently, it’s bad for the flamingos too.

There’s a similar story unfolding in Argentina, where roughly 30 indigenous communities have sued over lithium mining projects in that country. And when it comes to who’s buying most of that lithium, China actually controls 51% of the world’s supply. And it’s making deals all over the world. Experts told us most of China’s extraction and battery production has been coal powered, meaning the batteries it’s producing come with a huge carbon cost. Oh, and one more international wildcard, it turns out one of the world’s largest lithium reserves might actually be in Afghanistan, and China is reportedly hoping to exploit it if it can make a deal with the newly incharge Taliban. So it all comes back to this question of whether there’s a better way. Thea Riofrancos says when you look at how lithium is extracted, and batteries are built,

Thea Riofrancos: You get a picture of a lot of resource use, and oftentimes also exploitative and unethical work, working conditions and treatment of local communities. And this, for me brings to the forefront some of the most important dilemmas facing us along the energy transition, which is you know, how do we make this energy transition as globally just as possible.

Molly Wood: She means just as in justice. This idea of environmental justice and specifically a just transition is a relatively new but really important part of the climate conversation. See, the effects of the climate crisis are often felt most and soonest in poorer neighborhoods and countries. Thea says the lithium rich Atacama desert in Chile is a perfect example of this paradox.

Thea Riofrancos: For the local community in the Atacama region, that trade off is kind of a nonsensical one because they’re simultaneously experiencing pretty intense effects of climate change. And they’re experiencing the effects of the extraction related to the energy transition to stave off climate change. Right? So they’re like experiencing both ends of that.

Molly Wood: One way to potentially do both, according to some people, is to reverse the massive economic phenomenon of the last half century and to move from outsourcing to insourcing. That is, insource the dirty extractive industries that rich countries have been pushing offshore. And insourcing might benefit the US in other ways, since right now this country produces just a tiny fraction of the lithium it uses. And I’m starting to wonder how fast that will change or if it’ll really be that much better. 

So let’s tackle this question, starting with the idea that mining in the U.S. is better than in the rest of the world. Nevada, where that controversial proposed lithium mine is, well, it’s always been a mining state. So to get an idea of how the industry in Nevada works and how mining companies there present themselves these days, we went to a gold mine.

Announcer: Located along the Humboldt River basin of Northern Nevada, the Marigold Mine is much more than one of the largest employers in the region. It has become a much valued neighbor to… 

Molly Wood: This is the Marigold SSR gold mine in Nevada, a 32 year old open pit mine, located three hours east of Reno, where safety is a really big deal.

Announcer: The single most important thing is that all personnel are safe for life.

Molly Wood: We got a tour from Don Dwyer.

Don Dwyer: Hey, Kevin has done we’re gonna do a small little walk around and get some pictures. Copy. Thanks. 

Molly Wood: And Tyre Gray, the president of the Nevada mining Association. And let me tell you everything about the marigold mine is at a scale that’s kind of impossible to even comprehend. These guys know it.

Tyre Gray: We always tell people, you can appreciate mining until you see a close and so you’re getting ready to walk up to, you know, a three, four story house right? On wheels, so it’s uh it’s impressive.

Don Dwyer: Yeah, so this is the 320 ton haul truck. This is one of our Komatsu dash fours. 

Molly Wood: So these are like the world’s biggest dump trucks. You can see them from a mile away as you approach the mind. But the big open pit itself is so big that they look like queen ants on an ant hill with little worker ants driving all around them. It’s kind of overwhelming. Also, I can’t lie, those huge trucks are pretty awesome. Tyre also told me people tend to have an image of mining that’s more like Yosemite Sam, that old cartoon character.

Tyre Gray: Some guy walking around with a stick of dynamite in a, in a pickaxe in a burrow. Versus what you’ll see here is really high end. A lot of drone technology, sophisticated mapping systems and really impressive equipment.

Molly Wood: Mining these days, Tyree says is high tech, highly regulated and safe. He told me more than once that working in a mine is safer than working in a school or a hospital, which kind of yikes. It is also however, extremely violent. 

Don Dwyer: We blast Monday to Thursday. 

Molly Wood: Here’s Don.

Don Dwyer: And so we have a crew specifically assigned to doing those tasks. 

Molly Wood: Don says those crews map out a series of holes and drop down some explosives, which is a little Yosemite Sam if I’m being honest. And four days a week, they create a giant explosion to make open pits big enough to scoop out dirt laced with tiny tiny pieces of gold. Don says oh, people love blasting day. 

Don Dwyer: That’s a pretty thrilling experience. So if you ever able to come back out and tour again, we can certainly make that happen. 

Molly Wood: I’m really torn here between the like 14 year old boy inside me that is so thrilled by this and the part that’s like “Dude, that is a lot of destruction.”

Molly Wood: It is a lot of destruction. Even a mind that touts its safety and responsibility like this one is still digging a huge hole in the ground. And it’s dangerous. Two miners were killed at the Marigold mine in an accident in 2017. And an environmental advocate and industry watcher told us it’s impossible to say that the runoff from the mine isn’t contributing to area pollution. And contaminated tailings from the mine will sit there in a pile for decades, maybe even forever. And at the same time, says Tyree

Tyre Gray: Mining is a necessary component to life, period.

Molly Wood: He says most people don’t see it up close like this or realize that,

Tyre Gray: Mining is the first link in the chain of all technological advancements that man have made.

Molly Wood: So what did what did they say? What is not, anything that’s not grown is mined?

Tyre Gray: Right? Yeah. And that’s something that a lot of people have to be reminded of.

Molly Wood: I turned the topic to the lithium projects in Nevada, specifically the Thacker Pass project and all the controversy. Tyree told me mining projects are always a bit controversial, but it’s still better to dig the lithium here than anywhere else.

Tyre Gray: The issue is, we have a duty to make sure that we’re extracting in a way that is responsible, and that is sustainable, and we do it better here in Nevada than anybody else does. And so by opposing mining in Nevada, you somewhat unintentionally, implicitly say it’s okay for it to be mined elsewhere that doesn’t have the same environmental standards, doesn’t have the same civil standards.

Molly Wood: People definitely debate whether U.S. regulations are as strong as they should be or whether they’re followed by every mining operation. But when it comes to the Thacker Pass lithium mine, we did find people who think the trade offs are worth it. Well, to be fair, the first person we talked to who really supports the mine was suggested to us by Lithium Americas, the company itself. Illyssa Fogel is a motel owner in the little town of McDermitt, Nevada, north of the protest camp, and the little town of Orovada, and the Fort McDermitt reservation. And even though I knew she supported the Thacker Pass mine, I was still surprised when she said this, when I asked what she thought of Lithium Americas…

Illyssa Fogel: they’re winning the hearts and minds in my opinion.

Molly Wood: I mean, she is definitely the only person we’ve heard say that.

Illyssa Fogel: Come on in. 

Molly Wood: We visited Illyssa at her home in McDermitt,

Illyssa Fogel: My undergraduate degree is in music. I’m a lawyer, but my undergraduate was in music. 

Molly Wood: She was playing Beethoven, showing off her collection of African art and wearing a Colbert/Stewart 2016 T shirt.

Illyssa Fogel: Listening to Beethoven five. All right, there we go. Have a seat wherever you like

Molly Wood: Illyssa owns the Diamonda, a motel in McDermitt, which is about a five minute drive from the reservation. She says she supports the mine because the climate crisis needs fixing.

Illyssa Fogel: You’re here at an, in my opinion, at a kind of an unbelievably propitious or prescient time.

Molly Wood: The day we visited Illyssa, fires were raging nearby and McDermitt was in the midst of an unusually early heatwave, both of which had contributed to a power outage that lasted the whole night before we got there.

Illyssa Fogel: That was the longest power outage we’ve ever had here. As long as I’ve been here, which is about 20 years.

Molly Wood: Illyssa says the climate crisis – in the form of wildfires, heat waves, and drought –  is the reason she’s a big supporter of the mine. She says she actually approached Lithium Americas and offered to be a spokesperson, after she saw a news report one day in May, that she thought only focused on the opposition.

Illyssa Fogel: And I just thought, you know, something, there maybe needs to be somebody around here who can actually talk about why most of the people around here are in favor of the mine happening. And so I said I’ll volunteer, I’ll be that guy.

Molly Wood: Illyssa says, first of all, the US needs to be producing its own lithium.

Illyssa Fogel: We need to be keeping that production here in the US and not have to be dependent on getting it from China, and not at their mercy for having to buy lithium. It’s like, get it here and keep the jobs here, keep the production here.

Molly Wood: And second, keeping jobs and production here is good for the local economy. And, you bet, for her business at the motel too. She told me she’s been considering building an RV park on the lower portion of her property, which would be good timing for Lithium Nevada, because they’ll have up to 1000 workers coming to the area to construct the mine.

Illyssa Fogel: They love the idea of me putting in some RV spaces, because they’re going to have to have places for people to live who are doing the construction. 

Molly Wood: So it’s a win win here at least. And even if it sounds a little more like self interest, and a little less like worries about the climate crisis, I mean, it’s not like anyone wants a mine for the aesthetics. Of course it’s economics, and you can’t really blame her for wanting to benefit. 

But if the climate crisis is just part of Illyssa Fogel’s support for the mine, it’s the reason for Glenn Miller, a professor of natural resources and Environmental Science at the University of Nevada, Reno. We met for a late afternoon beer in downtown Reno near the city’s surprisingly nice Triple A baseball stadium.

Glenn Miller: You probably noticed that there’s not uniform opinions. But the bottom line is is in my opinion, this lithium line is is very important to do United States part for transportation.

Molly Wood: Glenn Miller is about the last person you’d expect to hear speaking in favor of a mining project. He’s devoted his life to environmental causes. He worked to clean up toxic mining operations and gasoline contamination in Lake Tahoe. He’s published research about how methane released from fracking can make water undrinkable. And back in the 90s, he founded the Great Basin Resource Watch, an environmental justice nonprofit based in Reno. Earlier this year, the Great Basin Resource Watch, along with several other conservation groups filed a lawsuit challenging the federal government’s approval of the mine. And Glenn shocked everyone by stepping down from the organization, the one he founded and ran for decades, because he says lithium is just too important for our survival.

Glenn Miller: My sermon is, transportation is about 15 to 30% of climate change carbon dioxide release, and maybe 15 to 20 is actually automobiles, and a lot of that can be mitigated with lithium batteries. So I’m a big fan of batteries, and I’m a big fan of lithium.

Molly Wood: Glenn Miller doesn’t own a motel or a grocery store. He isn’t gonna make any money if the mine goes through. And he just risked his professional reputation to support, of all things, more mining in Nevada. His voice carries some weight. And he says, as a nation, we have a responsibility to source as much of this material domestically as we possibly can.

Glenn Miller: We better be part of all of the efforts of mining, of metal recovery, and in the production if we have it available.

Molly Wood: Plus, he says, the mine being proposed at Thacker Pass? Let’s just say it could be a lot worse.

Glenn Miller: It is not as problematic as other ones I’ve seen by quite a bit. It’s a big mine. It’s impacting… that community of Orvada is going to change. But overall, climate change is running amok. And that is, that is the most important issue facing the world today.

Molly Wood: So this, according to Glenn, might not be the best way to get where we need to go in terms of getting off fossil fuels and barfing way less carbon into the atmosphere, but it’s got to be done. And Lithium Americas is saying it’s trying to do lithium mining better than anywhere else. So after the break, we’ll visit their lab to find out if that’s true.

And in a bland little office park in Reno, about three hours west of all the drama at Thacker Pass, Lithium Nevada says it’s perfecting the process of getting lithium out of the Nevada mountain clay. 

Molly Wood: I’m Molly.

Tim Crowley: Hi, nice to see you.

Molly Wood: Here, we got a tour from Ryan Ravenelle, the lead chemical engineer and Tim Crowley, the VP of communications and policy at Lithium Americas. And I was really interested to get a peek inside a company that a lot of people in Orovada don’t trust. Ryan and Tim showed me all the reasons why they say the mining project at Thacker Pass is really responsible. For example, when they create sulfuric acid, they make steam power, says Ryan, 

Ryan Ravenelle: So we convert a significant portion into electricity that then gets fed back to our plant.

Molly Wood: The mine will use only a few alfalfa fields worth of water, and says Tim,

Tim Crowley: Most of it will be used in the plant and will be recycled over and over and that recycling is done here.

Molly Wood: And actually, Tim says, Lithium Americas has mining rights all over the mountains in northern Nevada, and decided not to mine all over the place because of the environment.

Tim Crowley: That’s why we’re at backer pass where we’re away from the sage grouse habitat. We’re away from the trout habitat.

Molly Wood: Plus, says Crowley, instead of leaving a huge hole in the ground forever. Lithium Nevada will restore the land that digs up over the next 40 years as the mine operates. I gotta say it was all sounding great. 

But here’s where that humans being humans thing comes into play. Because right as I was starting to feel like lithium Americas is just misunderstood, my producer Haley passed me a note on her phone. It said Tim was recording us on his phone without telling us. Back in the parking lot, we were pretty surprised. 

Molly Wood: For real though? 

Hayley Hershman: Yeah, no, for real. He was recording us the whole time.

Molly Wood: Look, Tim didn’t do anything illegal. You don’t need two party consent to record in Nevada. But as a journalist, when a company does something in a situation like this that seems off or kind of non transparent, it’s just surprising. 

Luckily, it wasn’t long before we got a call with Tim’s boss. Jonathan Evans is the CEO of Lithium Americas, the parent company of Lithium Nevada. 

Molly Wood: We had this interview that we did at the lab and it was a lovely tour. And we all came away thinking like this is really a pretty responsible mining project. And this was a lovely visit. And then right at the very end, our producer noticed that Tim had been recording us on his phone without telling us and I wonder like, what do you make of moments when you can build trust and maybe don’t?

Jonathan Evans: Well, I should be careful, you’re with the press. This story in all of this, is one where I don’t think both sides of the story has been told.

Molly Wood: The way Jon sees it, the narrative around all of this has been unfairly characterized.

Jonathan Evans: So it’s like, big corporate America is coming in to bowl those things and the facts aren’t brought out.

Molly Wood: So is. So you feel like the recording really was about preserving the record, like saying, however, this turns out at the end, when the story comes out, this is what was actually said,

Jonathan Evans: Exactly. It’s difficult when it puts people on the defensive, and then you’re afraid to what you would say, because the thought things are taken out of context on purpose. So it’s no, definitely no offense. But we’ve been burned a couple times, and so have a lot of other companies in our shoes.

Molly Wood: Jon says he’s frustrated, and he believes the mind can make a real difference in getting the country off fossil fuels. But the main message from our interview is that he’s not backing down. Usually, when I talk to CEOs, they’re on message. They’re careful, they speak in generalities. But, mining is a rough business. And Lithium Americas has a lot riding on this project, because it’s a publicly traded mining company with no mines, and currently, no revenue. Lithium Americas has two mining operations in development, this Thacker Pass mine in Nevada and one in Argentina, and not for nothing, it’s in a partnership with one of China’s biggest mining companies. So Jon’s take is that the company is trying to engage with the community. But,

Jonathan Evans: We live in a democracy, right? So not everybody is going to, you know, like things at the end of the day. We’re looking for a majority of people that are happy, and for the folks that have questions, to answer all their questions and mitigate any of their concerns. But I think it’s impossible to get 100% of the people happy all the time. If I was going to build a mall next to your house, you might not like it, other people might like it.

Molly Wood: I asked him about one rancher I talked to who wants the company to compensate him if the mine takes too much water, which could potentially ruin his business.

Jonathan Evans: I think all he wanted. I’ll characterize this as a shakedown. So, I don’t believe any of the data you have, so just pay me.

Molly Wood: Wow. It really has gotten pretty intense huh?

Jonathan Evans: We’ve been very polite, but we also have to defend ourselves as well.

Molly Wood: Not backing down. Jon mostly dismisses the concerns about Thacker Pass being Indigenous burial grounds too, and says all that opposition is coming from Max Wilbert and Will Falk, the activists who started the protest camp last January.

Jonathan Evans: I’m not quite sure what they’re trying to prove. Except, perhaps to be a professional activist.

Molly Wood: And actually, Jon says he thinks plenty of people on the Fort McDermitt reservation want the mine.

Jonathan Evans: The gauge I use is the amount of folks that we’ve had apply, I think the tribe is about 300 people. And we’ve had over 40 people apply for jobs.

Molly Wood: At the end of the day, says Jon, there’s always a little bit of a fight when you’re spinning up a new mine. But he says in his view, the mine is still on track to start construction in 2022. 

So with that in mind, let’s revisit what we know about where this project stands. Right now, there’s a lawsuit filed by a coalition of environmental groups to try to stop the mine on environmental grounds. And over the summer, a coalition of tribal members joined that lawsuit and asked for an injunction to stop Lithium Nevada from doing an archeological dig to see what remains or artifacts might be in the ground. A federal judge in Reno ruled against that request in August, but she made it clear in her ruling that she is sympathetic to the argument from the tribes, if they can mount a legally coherent argument. And while this project in Nevada is moving forward with lots of support from the Trump administration, the Biden team does seem to think there’s a better way to extract lithium than the way we’ve always done things.

Jennifer Granholm: We’ve got to realize, though, that we’re in a moment where we must move fast, and we’ve got to do it in a responsible and sustainable way.

Molly Wood: This is Jennifer Granholm, the US Energy Secretary, and she says we shouldn’t go so quickly that we end up doing things the same old ugly way.

Jennifer Granholm: If the United States can crack the code on mining lithium in a responsible way, that respects the environment and the people and the land and the water. If we can do that, then we will have created an irresistible market, not just in the United States, but globally as well. All these other countries are looking for responsibly produced lithium, responsibly produced critical minerals. And if we can do it, and we are in the best position to be able to do it as a nation, then we should go for it. But making sure that it is done in a responsible way. You’re right in suggesting that that means it’s got to go more slowly.

Molly Wood: But I wonder what you mean when you say crack the code, like what parts might be missing?

Jennifer Granholm: Well, first of all, it’s got to be done in partnership with the community. And in, and recognizing that, if you are trampling over, you know, the lands that have that our tribal lands or that are burial lands or you know, then you might want to think, you should think twice about it. We want to do this in a way that respects, respects the history, respects people, and certainly respects tribal and indigenous lands. You have to do it in a way that does not suck up all the resources like water in an arid environment. You know, making sure that this is done right, is critical for our own competitiveness. We want to get the lithium, clearly, but you wanna do it in a way that doesn’t, you know, that doesn’t hurt the the people, the land and the history.

Molly Wood: You sort of sound like you might have some concerns about that Nevada project. 

Jennifer Granholm: I do.

Molly Wood: That concern probably doesn’t mean much for the Lithium Americas project, but it might suggest that future proposals will get a little more scrutiny. And in fact, there is a project that Granholm and others think have the potential to deliver lithium and benefits to the community in a way that the community actually wants, possibly a better way. That is in Southern California in an amazing and fascinating and devastated part of the state called the Salton Sea. We’re going to visit there a little later in the season. But before we go there, let’s do a little reminder that at best, we’ve got 10 years to make a massive reduction in the amount of carbon we’re putting into the air or face a planet that may eventually be uninhabitable. Maybe not as bad as that sci-fi book I was talking about way back in the beginning of the episode, you know, Seveneve’s, but with heat and drought and flooding and sea level rise that do make huge parts of it unsurvivable. So next week, we’ll take a deeper look at why lithium and batteries and electrifying our economy are so important, and so life saving.

Donnel Baird: The question is like, not if like this is definitely going to happen. The question is like, how do we do all of this in time to avoid the worst impacts of climate change?

Molly Wood: That’s next time on How We Survive.

How We Survive was created and hosted by me Molly Wood. 

Haley Hershman produced this episode, with help from Marque Greene and Grace Rubin. 

Hayley and I wrote it. 

Caitlin Esch is our senior producer, she edited this episode with help from Catherine Winter and Peter Thompson. 

Scoring and sound design is by Chris Julin, mixing by Brian Allison. 

Field engineering is by Lianna Squillace and Drew Jostad. 

Sitara Nieves is our executive producer. Our theme music is by Wonderly. Thanks for listening and please subscribe if you haven’t, and tell a friend.

The team

Molly Wood Host
Caitlin Esch Senior Producer
Hayley Hershman Producer
Marque Greene Associate Producer